Seeing Is Believing: White Privilege Edition

The difference is perception.

Yesterday, I had to spend my morning at the local DSHS office. My experience there is it’s own blog post, which I haven’t written yet. Right now, I want to share what I witnessed while waiting for my turn.

What I saw was a waiting room full of white people, of varying ages, gender, and means, all of whom were clearly comfortable coming into this office to ask for help wearing wrinkly, stained t-shirts, holey socks with sandals, hoodies, worn out jeans, and even pajamas and slippers! The prevailing attitude was “I’m here because I need to ask for help; why bother getting dressed?”

The other common denominator evident among them was attitude. Every single one of them was irritable, and impatient at having to wait so long. Those who brought children were visibly annoyed by the fact, and all of those children were running around and causing havoc in their pajamas, infants screaming.

Modestly sprinkled throughout this crowd of under-dressed, irritable white people were people of color. All of these, regardless of differences in situation, race, or faith, also had something in common. While they were all in the office for the same reason as everyone else, these few people were dressed to the nines. Full face makeup, jewelry, hair done, nice clothes ranging from clean, well coordinated hoodie and freshly pressed shorts to business attire.

The attitude and behavior among them was likewise consistent. They radiated calm collectedness, patiently waiting their turn. The mothers were serene, lovingly interacting with their children, who themselves were likewise dressed within an inch of their lives and sitting quietly, the baby happily babbling.

I stood there — as a white person, in my own hoodie and jeans, with no makeup, hair undone — for two hours, watching the people around me. In so doing, I found that I could not ignore the glaring disparity in the people around me. I could not not see the obvious proof that every person of color present obviously knew and accounted for the fact that unless they made the effort to “look good”, they would not be afforded even the same respect given to the white girl who came in with total “bedhead” in her fuzzy playboy bunny pajamas and slippers.

So for those out there who claim that white privilege does not exist because you’ve never seen it, I invite you to do just that. Spend a morning in the waiting room of your local assistance office and watch the people. I promise you won’t be able to rationalize it away successfully if you actually take the time to see the people around you.

If you aren’t willing to take that time, you need to ask yourself, honestly, “Is it actually that white privilege doesn’t exist, or that I refuse to see it?”

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